Lawmakers Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) are concerned that Google is profiting from advertisements placed by sex traffickers, expressing these fears in a joint letter to CEO Larry Page. The missive seeks reassurances of the company’s commitment to ferreting out ads that contribute to the activity.
“Whatever Google is doing or not doing to prevent these sorts of advertisements from appearing on their properties, Google has not satisfied a significant number of human rights organizations who have a specialized understanding of how these ads contribute to the human trafficking of women and girls,” the letter said. “We are particularly concerned that these human rights groups may have identified yet another area where Google profits from illicit activities such as Google’s advertising of controlled substances for which your company paid a $500,000,000 forfeiture to the United States last year.”
Victim’s Rights Groups Call For Investigation
Maloney and Blackburn refer to calls by The National Association For Human Trafficking Victim Advocates and other anti-trafficking organizations that Google’s part in accepting and displaying human-trafficking-related ads be investigated. The organization last week wrote to the National Association of Attorneys General saying that it believes Google is not taking enough proactive steps to prevent the ads in question from appearing.
“If you don’t think that online dating and sex tourism sites are fronts for prostitution and human trafficking, then you have your head in the sand… just Google it. Ads on Craigslist and Backpage.com pale in comparison to the volume that Google generates,” Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, a former victim and anti-human-trafficking advocate, said in a statement.
Specifically, the groups urge doubters to search for terms like “adult fun” and “buy foreign women” on Google, and see what results appear.
Google Says It’s Spending Millions On Enforcement
Google says it does ban ads for sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution: “We have invested millions of dollars in monitoring and enforcing this ban — using the latest technology as well as manual review by teams who are specially trained to get bad ads, and bad advertisers, off Google. We also work closely with law enforcement and other government authorities. But it’s a constant battle against these bad actors so we are always looking at ways to improve our systems and practices — including by working with leading anti-trafficking organizations.”
Anti-human-trafficking organizations have successfully mounted a campaign to shut down the “Adult Services” section on Craigslist, and are gaining momentum with a protest of Village Voice Media for its Backpage.com site, which they claim profits from human trafficking-related ads. Last month, 19 US Senators sent a letter to the Village Voice, calling for them to stop accepting such ads.
This is just the latest outbreak of concern and outrage over Google’s ability and desire to keep ads that violate its policies off of AdWords. As the lawmakers mentioned, Google agreed to pay $500 million over illegal pharmaceutical ads last year. It’s also visibly struggled with mortgage scam ads, gambling ads, ads for counterfeit goods, and those that violate local trademark laws, leading many to accuse Google of being lax because it profits financially when these ads are displayed, rather than blocked. Google, for its part, says its business depends on being able to create a trusted environment on its pages, so it has every interest in nixing bad ads.